Russia Has Killed Ukrainian Civilians Using "Fléchettes" – A Brutal WWI Technology

James Felton

James Felton

Senior Staff Writer

clockApr 26 2022, 12:35 UTC
Flechettes, as used in World War I

Flechettes, as designed by Sweden (left) and used in World War I (right). image credit: Public Domain via Sandstein/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain via US Military/Wikimedia Commons

Forensic doctors and pathologists carrying out post-mortems on civilians killed by Russian invaders in Bucha, Ukraine, and laid in mass graves, have found projectiles known as "fléchettes", first used in World War I.

Fléchettes were first developed in 1915 as an anti-personnel weapon. The thin, metal arrows were dropped over German trenches by planes, and were used for their ability to pierce helmets, and their grim capability to mutilate soldiers they landed on. Much like a dart, the projectiles have a pointed end to enter targets, with metal fletching at the other end to stabilize flight. With modern rounds, which are fired out of shells in large numbers, the shaft of the arrow often bends upon entering a victim, sometimes into a u-shape, causing a lot of damage to tissue and making them difficult to remove. The fletching often breaks off too, causing a second wound nearby, the Guardian reports.


Their use in Ukraine has been confirmed by experts contacted by The Guardian and The Washington Post, with dozens said to have been killed by the rounds.

“We found several really thin, nail-like objects in the bodies of men and women and so did others of my colleagues in the region,” Ukrainian forensic doctor Vladyslav Pirovskyi told the Guardian. “It is very hard to find those in the body, they are too thin. The majority of these bodies come from the Bucha-Irpin region.”


Fléchettes – often referred to as "meat grinder rounds" for their devastating effect on flesh – fell out of use towards the end of World War I, as bombs proved to be more effective. However, they were used by the US in Vietnam, both dispersed by explosives and loaded into rifles and shotguns, and have been considered as an alternative to cluster bombs by the US following the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which prohibits use of the weapons. Russia, who did not sign the treaty, appears to be using cluster bombs in Ukraine, according to reports on the ground and analysis by the Wall Street Journal.

Though fléchettes haven't been banned, their use, particularly in civilian areas, is highly controversial. Amnesty International has condemned the use of the rounds over the years, after they were used by the Israeli Army in Gaza in 2009, killing Palestinian civilians, including children. Israel later announced that it was phasing out the use of the US-made shells – fired from tanks – for more precise rounds with "obvious humanitarian benefits."


As well as the damage caused by the rounds, the darts are condemned for how indiscriminate they are, especially when used in built-up areas. The rounds can kill people within a 300-meters by 100-meter radius.

[H/T: The Guardian]

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